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Culture VS the Innovator

Culture has often described as the mystical component to a company's competitive advantage. Culture guides people through choices on the path to generating value for a company. Yet, many companies face profound cultural challenges to innovation.

Changing organization culture can be challenging. Edgar H. Schein, in his book "Organizational Culture and Leadership" suggests a path to changing company culture for corporate innovators. The root cause lies in the way a group engrains a belief as a culture.

Groups habitually select their beliefs from a group's leader. Typically when a group is faced with a decision, a leader will offer a recommended solution. Once that solution yields a positive outcome, the group accepts the idea initially as a value but then, later on, and continually reinforced, as an assumption.

It is these set of assumptions that guides groups to recognize situations and select suitable responses. Furthermore, they function as a mechanism to reduce uncertainty and slowly convert into non-discussed rules for the group. Innovation inherently challenges assumptions and in doing so, drive the group into uncertainty. With uncertainty comes group anxiety which the group interprets as a source of pain. The group then naturally and cognitively moves to defend itself against the sources of discomfort and pain. These defence mechanisms (denial or rationalization) are more accessible to invoke than the process of validating new assumptions.

Since culture is a deeply accepted group of assumptions, an innovator must first determine the set of assumptions the organization supports. Once found, an innovator must ascertain the benefit they bring to the group. Lastly, an innovator must know how calm and diminish the rising levels of group anxiety a change might bring. In doing so, pave the way for cultural acceptance of the innovation-driven change.


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